Brazilian racecar driver Helio Castroneves has already won the Indianapolis 500 three times and he's gunning for a fourth Indy title this year. "It's a great race and such an honor to compete in it," says the 36-year-old champion. "I'm very grateful that I've had such good races there." A seasoned traveler now living in the United States, Castroneves and his girlfriend, Adriana Henao (whom he refers to as his wife), have a young daughter together. A former winner of "Dancing with the Stars," Castroneves says fans may stay in touch with him on Twitter @h3lio.
Q. When you're in a city for a race, do you have much downtime to sightsee?
A. Unfortunately, there's very little time to do anything other than race. Most of the time I'm traveling solo for work. But if we're going to race somewhere like in Australia, I try to go for at least a week and bring my family with me. It's such a long flight that I want to take advantage of the trip and try to have a few days of vacation.
Q. Of all the countries you've been to, which stands out?
A. Japan. What I admire the most there is the culture and the discipline of the whole country. It's a marvel. The people really respect each other and I found that to be both incredible and cool. There are some really beautiful areas there, like Kyoto and downtown Tokyo.
Q. Did you have any preconceived notions about what Japan would be like?
A. Not so much the country, but I thought I knew what the food would be like and it was different. I'm not an adventurous eater, but I really like sushi. The sushi in Japan was really great. But it was a little bit different than our sushi in America. Their fish seems a little saltier over there and they don't mix it up as much as over here. Here, they're trying to accommodate the palate of Americans, which is made up of the taste of many cultures, since America is an international place. Both are good, but different.
Q. What's your guilty pleasure when you're traveling?
A. I love dessert, whether it's chocolate or any type of sweets. I can't live without it, actually. But I try not to feel too guilty about it since I exercise a lot. Believe it or not, even though we do our job sitting, it's a tough job and we lose a lot of water and have to be in shape. I don't drink soft drinks and I don't eat red meat, even though I'm from Brazil. I know. People say I'm crazy!
Q. Driving as a tourist, which country has been difficult for you to get around?
A. I would say Brazil is tough. Every time I go back, I'm amazed at how difficult it can be!
Q. Do you prefer to fly or drive when you go on vacation?
A. If the trip is in the four-hour range, I prefer to drive. If it's 10-hours or more, then I prefer to fly.
Q. Are you a backseat driver?
A. I'm OK with being in the backseat but, yes, I can be. I'm mostly concerned when people try to show off. That's when I get a little uncomfortable. People don't realize that with ordinary cars, you can't go fast like you can in a racecar and still be safe.
Q. What are your favorite places?
A. Japan, of course. I love Tokyo. Australia is another one. For sure Brazil. It's just a great place, with the beaches. Sao Paulo is impressive and phenomenal. You can eat so well there! America has so many beautiful places. I really like Chicago and have friends there. I love the downtown area, the lake and Michigan Avenue. The winters are just too cold for me, though, so I only visit when it's warm. Canada is also pretty nice. I really enjoy Toronto, which is a great city that's very fun and international, as well.
Q. Are you a fan of Europe?
A. Yes, I do like Europe and have been all over the place there -- England, Holland, France ... but I still like all those other places better.
Q. Where is home?
A. Florida is the place that I call home. The weather is tropical and similar to what I'm used to, and I enjoy living there very much. I love the United States. It's the land of opportunity and it is a difficult place to leave.
Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?
A. United Arab Emirates. I'd like to see places like Abu Dhabi and Dubai. We live in such a global world and it's easy to connect with the world. I want to experience it all.
Q. Are foreign languages easy for you to pick up?
A. Not as easy as I'd like. I can speak Portuguese, English and Spanish. My wife is Colombian and she knows my Spanish isn't correct, but she can still understand me and that's the most important thing.
Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A. My Verizon phone has always got to be with me. I feel kind of naked without access to communication. It's amazing how addicted we get to something like that. And sunglasses.
(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at www.jaehakim.com. You may also follow "Go Away With..." @GoAwayWithJae where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun